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End of the Road for me

Heading out for what would be the last hike.

Heading out for what would be the last hike.

I won’t beat around the bush or mince words. For me, the dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail has now come to an end.

We recently returned from our 10-day vacation in the mountains of northern New Mexico. This was the first year that I would be able to really test out how my bad foot and ankle would react to true hiking in the outdoors. Eighteen months ago, I had a tendon transfer surgery on my left foot and ankle in order to try to straighten out my foot and make walking easier. Like I have written before, the surgery quickly failed within a few months and my foot rolled right back to its awkward position. Prior to the surgery, I had always been able to hike, slowly and delicately, with proper footwear, but was able to hike none-the-less. This year’s attempts at hiking would be the first real chance to see how the foot and ankle would react without any tendon support on the outside of the foot.

I did my first walk the day after we arrived in the mountains. This was a short 2-mile hike on a dirt surface that used to be a mining road. I did fairly well, armed with brand new hiking shoes and a pair of new trekking poles. Things were looking up.

The next hike was a challenging 4-mile hike to an alpine lake high in the mountains. This was an actual hiking trail versus a dirt road, the first 2-miles were all uphill, and the trail was VERY rocky. Very, very rocky.

I quickly discovered that I HATE ROCKS!! My pace soon slowed to a crawl as I tried to weave around and over the small-to-medium sized rocks that littered the trail. My Brother-in-Law and Nephew soon ended up way ahead of me on the trail and I was left to fight the rocks alone. (This was a trail that my wife and I had hiked in a previous year with no difficulty)

Even with new shoes and the added balance of the trekking poles, I could not keep my left foot in a balanced position as I stepped on each rock, no matter the size of the surface. It was like walking with one broken ice skate. In patches of the trail where the rocks thinned out and I had actual dirt to walk on, I did fine. Once back into the rocks, I again slowed to a painful crawl and spent my whole time staring at my feet, instantly trying to scout out where exactly to plant my feet as I struggled along.

All alone in the woods, I flashed back to the countless books on the Appalachian Trail that I have read thus far.

ROCKS.

Lots of ROCKS.

It is a common theme. Apparently, the entire length of the trail in Pennsylvania is nothing but rocks. But what I read, most of the northern states are extremely rocky.

Here I was, attempting a short hike that I had already done previously, and I quickly found that I was unable to continue.

My mind was fine.

I had no doubts that I could get the rest of my body into full hiking shape by next year.

I was not having trouble with the high altitude.

My spirits were fine.

I just could not make it.

Crawling along at a snails pace, wobbling atop pitifully small rocks that would be nothing compared to what awaited us on the AT, I finally realized that I MYSELF COULD walk the Appalachian Trail, or at least a good part of it, B-U-T………..my stupid left foot and ankle cannot. My left leg can no longer tolerate hiking. I can walk on paved roads, dirt trails or roads, grass, etc. but when it comes to any kind of rocky surface, I am up a creek without a paddle.

I stopped in the trail and turned around, about a half-mile from the goal of the alpine lake at the end of the trail. I knew that the walk back down to the car would officially mark the end of my hiking career. My Brother-in-Law and Nephew did make it to the lake, explored a bit, and then headed back down, catching up to me a short time later. They actually walked ahead of me and tried creating a path through the rocks for me so that I would have some flat surfaces to step on. My 3-mile hike took over four hours, embarrassingly slow, even by my normal slow standards.

By the time we reached the car, my ankle would barely move. If it was not numb, I imagined that I would have been in a great deal of pain and discomfort. Later, when I removed my shoe and sock, my entire foot and ankle were purple and swollen. I could not imagine a scenario where it would ever be able to tolerate hiking over 10 miles a day on average, for 6-7 months in a row. I had little doubt that the ankle or foot would most likely break while stepping unevenly on a rock, most likely within the first few days of our Appalachian Trail Hike. I had visions of Steve and Michelle being stuck having to wait with me as I awaited EMT’s to hike up to our location in order to somehow carry me down to civilization.

Braces and high-tech hiking boots have no effect on my foot, and the braces actually make things worse. I know now that there is no piece of equipment that I can possibly buy that would allow me to walk safely over the thousands of miles of rocks scattered along the AT. The trail is even littered with areas of actual rock scrambles where you crawl on hands and knees to try to pull yourself over massive boulders. Other areas involve jumping and hopping from rock to rock atop massive piles of rocks and boulders. If I cannot handle walking on small rocks in the woods, how could I ever possibly think I would be able to hop from the uneven surface of one rock to another?

Again, I CAN DO IT…………… But my foot and ankle can’t.

This failed hike occurred a good week before we left to come back home to Texas. I had lots of time to sit out in my chair, in the cool air, staring at the mountains, thinking about the Appalachian Trail dream that I have, along with Steve and Michelle.

I accept that the physical condition of my left leg will no longer allow me to hike as I was once able to in previous years. I can still do short hikes on fairly flat surfaces, and can still walk the streets of my town, but my days of climbing up rocky trails on the sides of mountains are now over.

Surprisingly, I am now accepting of this fact to a much better degree than I had envisioned. I guess it’s better to find out the truth now rather than facing a painful emotional disappointment just a few days into my Appalachian Trail hike. I quickly realized that I had also failed at this latest hike with only a small backpack filled with water and sandwiches strapped to my back. I cannot imagine what my foot would have endured had I been carrying 30-40lbs on my back as would be expected on our AT hike.

Also, just a few days after my failed hike, I encountered another issue. My Father-in-Law were going to go on a Jeep ride up the mountain. One problem…. I could not get into the jeep! I had to step up about 3 feet in order to get my legs into the Jeep and found that I could not lift my numb legs that high! (I guess I have not tried to lift my legs that high in recent years) The ride was abandoned because I could not even get into the vehicle. I again thought of the stories of hikers climbing over huge boulders out on the trail, and quickly realized, some boulders were just going to be too big for me to ever be able to make it over.

So, MY Appalachian Trail dream is now over…..

Until “Plan B” goes into effect.

Under that ingenious plan, I will coat my bad leg in barbecue sauce and will lay in one of the many dumpsters in Red River, waiting for a member of the large Bear population of the area to make an appearance in its search for food, at which point I will thrust out my BBQ –Sauce encrusted limb so that the animal can chew off the limb, thereby making it so that my Insurance Carrier will have to fit me with a prosthetic bionic foot that can handle hiking up any mountain on the planet.

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(Besides….with numb legs and feet, it’s not like I would feel any pain from the bear-gnawing anyway…..)

I know, it IS a damn ingenious plan!

My real regret in this decision is Steve and Michelle. Like me, they had dreams of doing this hike in order to overcome their own physical and psychological demons. While my dream of this hike may be over, I really hope that this does not kill their own dreams of conquering the trail. If they do wish to go on, I will be their main supporter and cheerleader. Nothing would make me happier than seeing the picture of the both of them standing atop Mt. Katahdin in Maine. My hiking dream may be impossible, but I’ll find another dream that I myself can chase. Who knows, maybe it will be something that Steve, Michelle, and I can all complete together.

So, Steve and Michelle……………… Please keep training and please keep hiking!

Chase that dream!

For all of us!

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The Mountains await you!

Mark G. Pakulak “The Idiot”

Santa Claus returns to the Mountains

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Tomorrow, we head back to Red River, Mexico for our annual vacation.

This will be the true test for my legs and feet.

A year ago, I was 6 months into recovering from Tendon Transfer Surgery on my left ankle and foot, and 1 month into recovering from surgery to have my spinal cord stimulator implanted.

Red River is my favorite place on the planet because of my love of hiking in the woods. Last year, I did virtually no hiking whatsoever. Just walking a block in order to get our daily fix of chocolate and fudge was too painful on most days. My surgery on my foot and ankle had been a complete failure. Within a few months of the surgery, my foot had rolled right back to it’s previous bad position, and now I faced walking on the side of my foot with no tendon support whatsoever left on the outside of the foot and ankle. I went to an Orthotics place to see about getting yet another type of brace that I could wear, only to be told that making a brace to properly hold my foot into position would most likely be at the cost of my tearing up my knee in the process.

But, like I have done since I got hurt in 2009, I learned to adapt. I adapted and learned how to walk with the least amount of pressure on my bad foot and ankle. As you might remember, I made it to a point to where I actually walked 13.2 miles in one day earlier this year. A few weeks later, I felt pain in my bad foot and immediately took time off from walking.

Aside from a full day of hiking around Disneyland, I have not done any long walks or hikes since that latest scare with the pain.

So, now comes the test.

I’ve readied the trekking poles, two pairs of hiking shoes, the leather hat, the large knife to protect me from predatory chipmunks and squirrels, the bug spray, the water, and the sunblock.

It’s time to hit the trail.

If all goes well, I’ll do 3-4 real good hikes of more than 6 miles each, at altitudes from 9,000-11,000 ft. Years ago, I tried a hike to a high alpine lake called LOST LAKE. Most people thought I had no business even attempting the hike. I ALMOST made it. I got to within a half mile of the lake but turned back when I reached a rather narrow section of trail hugging the side of a rocky cliff. I’m gonna face obstacles like that with regularity on the Appalachian Trail, so I’ll just have to GET THROUGH IT and keep pushing up the trail.

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Hopefully, if all goes well, I shall be posting pics of LOST LAKE once I get home from Vacation. I will be posting updates as to my hikes on the FB page during my time in Red River.

So, it’s off to the mountains!

See ya’ll on the FB page in the coming days!

Happy Hiking!

Hoping for a Green Light

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Now that I have been home for a few days from our 17-day Cross Country odyssey, I have had time to think more about the upcoming Appalachian Trail hike.

The real reason for our trip was in order to travel out to my Hometown in Oregon where my brother and I were hosting a reception and dinner to honor our parents 50th Anniversary. As such, I got to catch up with tons of relatives and family friends that I have not seen in years.

Some observations relating to our upcoming hike:

1. Everyone I encountered initially thought the idea of hiking the AT was “Cool”, “Neat”, “What Fun”, etc……until they discovered how long the trail is. At that point, the thoughts were more in line with “You are crazy!”, “Are you Crazy?”, “I’ve never head of something so crazy!”, and “What have you been smoking and where can we get some?”.

2. During our travels to Oregon and back, we had the good fortune of driving through areas in which the Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail happen to cross the highways. I am SOOOO happy that the Appalachian Trail has TREES for virtually the entire length. The CD trail in Wyoming and NM, and the PC trail in Southern California were in areas that were nothing more than barren desert. Hot, barren, waterless, windswept desert. I thought about the hundreds of hikers currently out on those trails and I am thankful that my idiot brain did not come up with the idea of trying one of those trails FIRST.

The rock I could not scale...

The rock I could not scale…

3. I encountered a small “Now that’s not a good moment” early in our trip while in the Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado. We were parked at an area of the park in which people were climbing all over the sloped surfaces of some huge rocks. To get onto the rocks, you had to step up about a foot and a half from the sidewalk, onto the slope of the rock, with no handholds whatsoever. No problem for my wife and son, they just hopped right up and started trotting across the rock. I quickly discovered that my balance issues with my bad foot and legs are such that I could not step up onto the rock. If I had a handrail, or a tree, or a Supermodel to grab onto for leverage, I would have been fine, but unfortunately, this little foot and a half step UP…….. completely had me stymied. I did NOT go onto the rock with the hundreds of other tourists at the park.

4. While at the Oregon Coast, my wife and I went for a walk on the beach. This reminded me that I am completely unable to walk on sand, gravel, or very loose dirt. Again, the issues with the balance in the legs and feet were the main culprit. Walking on the soft surfaces made it virtually impossible for me to balance myself as I tried to walk. As such, I walked just about half the normal speed of a SLOW DEATH. The use of trekking poles would keep me from falling over, but will not do anything to help my feet balance themselves on a loose surface.

5. We went to Disneyland on this trip and spent 12 hours at the park, in addition to walking 3 blocks each way to and from our Hotel to the park. I did OK as long as I was moving. I was reminded that standing in one place just KILLS my foot and legs. As long as there is not a logjam of hikers clogging the trail so that we cannot move, I should be fine. I did pretty well at Disneyland until an ill-advised ride on the Matterhorn Bobsleds beat the crap out of me. It’s not that the ride was real violent or anything, it was just a matter of the seat being designed for a person half my size, causing my Spinal Fusion to be CRUSHED with every little dip and drop on the track since I had little to no back support. I spent the last 5 hours of the day “people watching” from benches, and whimpering like a wounded puppy, as the wife and kid rode more rides.

6. I expected to wake up the next morning, after Disney, feeling like I had been hit by a train. In reality, I was not feeling all that bad. This gives me hope that I can recover quickly after long, hard days on the trail, especially days on the trail that do not involve being beaten to a pulp by sadistic carnival rides.

7. Since I got home, I have had the opportunity to transfer the 1,100 photos I took from my camera onto my PC. This does not even count the 1,000 photos my wife took with her phone during the trip. In looking at MY photos, some of which my wife took, I was a little alarmed by a few photos. (Damn! I AM Santa Claus!!)

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Standin on a corner in Winslow, Arizona......

Standin on a corner in Winslow, Arizona……

In these photos, I am standing in my “normal” balanced position. I FEEL like I am standing perfectly flat-footed. Thanks to my Santa Claus belly, I don’t get a real good view down at my feet. It’s not until I see photos like these that I truly realize how much my bad foot is ALWAYS rolled outwards, no matter how hard I consciously try to stand “normally”. More than a few people asked me, “You sure your foot will hold up?”, or “Aren’t you worried it will break?” type questions while I was telling them of my grand hiking plans with Steve and Michelle. A few people asked “What does your Doctor think?”, to which I always skillfully changed the subject. Eighteen months ago I had a Tendon Transfer surgery done on the foot and ankle, and as such, now I have no tendons on the outside of my left foot, leaving that area with virtually no support. (The idea was to pull the foot back into a “straight” position, but the surgery failed)

Truth be told, my Doctors know nothing of this hiking plan. In reality, I am terrified they will tell me “NOOOOOO!!!!! YOU’RE CRAZY!!” if I were to ask them their thoughts on my ability to complete this hike.

But, in looking at the photos of my foot, I have now come to the conclusion that I do indeed need to go to my Ortho Specialist, the man who has already operated on the bad foot once, and I need to spell out my plans to him and ask him if he thinks the foot will hold up for the duration of the hike. There is no need to start buying equipment and stockpiling food and supplies if the Doctor honestly thinks that there is no way the foot and ankle could handle the stress of 2,000 miles of hiking. I am going on vacation to Red River, New Mexico in a couple weeks and will wait until I return before I see the Doctor. I plan on doing some test hikes while in Red River and can see how the foot holds up. If I do well, I can relay this to the Doctor and hopefully it will work in my favor.

But, that’s the take-away from this vacation.

I need to get the GREEN LIGHT from the Doctor in order to attempt the hike.

I’m confident the test hikes will go well and the Doc will clear me to attempt as much as I personally feel comfortable attempting.

(I’ll probably have to sign the standard “YOU ARE AN IDIOT!” waiver, which is fine with me)

Besides, if the foot breaks out on the trail, I have Steve to carry me 30 miles to the nearest road……. right Steve?

Return of the Idiot

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Gee Whiz…………. I go on a short two and a half week vacation across half the planet and all hell breaks loose while I am gone…………. translation: Steve gets “Marked”…………… ha ha

The family and I just returned last night from a 5,100 mile road trip, halfway to the moon and back, and I am just now in the process of trying to get caught up on everything I missed. (I was electronics-free the whole trip)

I did chat with Steve briefly after returning home and saw that he had indeed been “Marked” by the WordPress Gestapo………causing him to have to shift his blogs to their own domains. After what they did to myself and Steve, I can pretty well assure you that WORDPRESS has pretty well soured me on blogging altogether.

I’ll post more on our trip along with some photos in the coming days, along with visual proof of how only a true IDIOT (myself) could cause damage to his own car while driving THROUGH a Redwood Tree. And, you also will get the added bonus of great details on how only a true IDIOT, sweltering in a Biblical Heatwave in California, could get beaten up by a Bobsled during said heatwave.

Talk to ya soon!

Happy Hiking!

M.I.A. Idiot checking in…………

Greetings from the reclusive Texas Idiot.

Sorry I have been AWOL from the blog page for a bit and I hope my hiking brethren accept my sincere apology. After submitting this post, I will be ramming my skull repeatedly into my computer monitor, until I am rendered unconscious, in a small token act of repentance.

Last Saturday, I was out walking when I started getting some minor pain in my left foot. With all the neurological issues in my feet, I could not really tell for sure if this pain was nerve, muscular, bone, tendon, etc. It just started to hurt as I was walking along minding my own business. I turned for home. About a half mile later, I realized I would not make it home and instead changed course, heading to my parents house so I could get a ride home. When I go to the parents, I took off my shoe and sock and my foot was red and swollen, though it is always red and swollen when I am up for any period of time.

The wife and family all wanted me to go see my Foot Surgeon on Monday morning but I decided to just rest the foot and see if the problem would resolve on its own. Why? Simple…. I AM TIRED OF GETTING NOTHING BUT BAD NEWS AT THE DOCTORS OFFICE. So, I hoped that I just somehow gotten a mild sprain or strain on the foot and that over time, with rest, it would heal on it’s own and I would be fine.

It’s been 6 days now and I have not walked for extended periods and have not even ridden the stationary bike so that I would not put any unnecessary strain on the foot. The foot is much better. I only get minor twinges of pain on occasion when walking, which does not really alarm me because my feet usually always hurt to some extent. My thinking and my hope is that if I had done serious damage to the foot, or if I had even tore a tendon or something, I would still be having a great deal of pain and discomfort to this day, which I am not.

So, hopefully this was just a minor hiccup in my training. Better to get the hiccups out of the way now, versus later on the actual trail.

We are leaving for a 2-week road-trip vacation to my Home State of Oregon on the 16th of this month. I have decided that I will just exercise on the stationary bike until we get back from Oregon, giving my foot a good month off from extended walking. This should allow whatever is going on in the foot plenty of time to heal. Besides, it’s summer in Texas…………… only Idiot’s are out walking in this heat furnace anyway!

On another down note………. Something I did NOT need to read this past week at a time when I was sitting here nervously worrying about my foot and my ability to do this hike.
I have been following the online journal of a hiker currently out on the trail. This guy is 14 years older than me and started this hike after retiring from work. He hikes slow and I developed a real connection with his writings because like me, he had never overnight camped and did any real long-distance hiking before hitting the trail. He started in late March, just like we plan to, and did great, overcoming all kinds of issues with his gear, the weather, sickness, etc. This past week, he was over 800 miles into his hike, and just quit.

He wrote that four consecutive days of heat and humidity had totally wiped him out. He was having to carry 8-10 lbs of water, which really weighed him down, and though he was drinking plenty of water, he could never muster any energy in the heat. Due to the heat and humidity, he was soaking wet, all his gear was wet, the bugs were out in full force and were eating him alive day and night, and he was just totally miserable. He said that four days of being completely hot and miserable just did him in. Whereas he had been chugging right along with no real major issues, he suddenly hit that terrible 4-day stretch and it just killed him.

Sadly, after he quit, the weather took another dramatic change out on the trail. Other hikers who’s journals I am reading are reporting cool temps and perfect hiking weather these past few days. Maybe if that guy had stayed out just one more day, the weather would have changed and his whole outlook would have changed. He broke one of the cardinal rules of the trail that I have read in many books.

NEVER QUIT ON A BAD DAY.

If you quit on a bad day, chances are you will totally regret it later on. Push through the bad day, or days, and when things have improved, if you still have the desire to quit, then quit.

Heeding this advice, I am not going to quit while going through this temporary bad period. I might be having a “bad day” foot-wise at the moment, but better days are just around the corner.

Flashing back a bit…

Last week, up until I tweaked my foot, I walked 23.3 miles for the week (140.6 total), rode the bike for 25 miles (402 miles total), and had a steady weight of 273 pounds. (- 16lbs total)

Happy Hiking!